Oklahoma football: Sooners going all in on bettering defensive line

Oklahoma football coach Brent Venables talks during a press conference in Norman, Okla., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.venables
Oklahoma football coach Brent Venables talks during a press conference in Norman, Okla., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023.venables /

If you haven’t noticed — and it hasn’t been all that subtle — the Oklahoma football recruiting effort is going all-in on bringing in and building a future defensive line that will match up to head coach Brent Venables’ high standards for what must exist at the point of attack in a championship-level defense.

Venables produced several national championship-caliber defenses as defensive coordinator at Clemson, and all of those outstanding defenses were keyed by the big guys upfront. That’s exactly what his vision is for Oklahoma.

You could see that developing in the Sooners’ 2023 class, the first true recruiting class under Venables, but it has really started to take form with the 2024 class. It had been a while since OU’s recruiting class had included as many as three five-star prospects in the same class.

The 2023 class features three five-stars, and two of those were defensive players. Edge rusher P.J. Adebawore and safety Peyton Bowen along with quarterback of the future Jackson Arnold.

Venables may not be a big advocate of building or sustaining success through the transfer portal, but he is smart enough realize that the portal is a strong talent supplement when the needs are immediate. And the Sooners’ defensive needs met that criteria.

For the coming season, OU has added defensive experience, especially on the D-line, bringing in Rondell Bothroyd from Wake Forest, who is expected to start and have an immediate impact, Jacob Lacey from Notre Dame, Da’Jon Terry from Tennessee, and Trace Ford, who transferred to OU from in-state Bedlam rival Oklahoma State.

The emphasis on improving the quality and depth of the defensive line has become even more apparent in the 2024 recruiting cycle.  The Sooners have two D-line commitments so far in the 2024 class — Wyatt Gilmore, a four-star edge rusher out of Minnesota, and Jayden Jackson, a four-star defensive tackle out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida — but that is about to change moving forward.

They say good things come to those who wait. And Oklahoma has been working especially hard in the recruitment of five-star defensive end Williams Nwaneri out of Lee’s Summit. Mo., in the Kansas City metropolitan area. A decision on that front is expected on Aug.1, and there are multiple recruiting service projections favoring Oklahoma in the recruiting battle to land Nwaneri’s commitment. OU, Missouri and Georgia are considered the prime contenders in that order.

If the Sooners get Nwaneri’s commitment, as expected, he will be the highest-ranked recruit in this OU class and the No. 3 overall recruit in the 2024 class nationally. And Venables, defensive line coach Todd Bates and defensive ends coach Miguel Chavis have no intention of slowing down the recruitment of top-ranked D-lineman in the 2024 cycle.

Five-star prospect David Stone, who hails from the Lone Star State but also happens to be a teammate of Jayden Jackson at IMG Academy in Florida, is ranked by the 247Sports Composite as the consensus No. 2 defensive lineman in the 2024 class, has long been projected to land at Oklahoma. Stone has yet to set a commitment timeline, but there has been talk that he might elect to extend it out until right before the early signing period in December.

The Sooners also have several crystal-ball projections, including one just this week from Jordan Scruggs, a Texas Longhorns recruiting expert for 247Sports, for four-star defensive end Nigel Smith II, who lists Texas, OU, Ohio State and Penn State on his short list. The Sooners, however, appear to be in the lead for Smith’s commitment, which could come shortly.

The Oklahoma coaches are also actively in the hunt for four-star defensive end Danny Okoye, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and four-star defensive tackle Dominick McKinley, from Lafayette, Louisiana.

If the OU coaching staff is successful in reeling in two or more of these uncommitted 2024 defensive-line targets, and all in just one recruiting cycle, the OU defensive line is going to be set for at least the next three seasons and will be in strong shape when it begins competing in the SEC.

And you can be assured that the Sooners are taking a similar approach with the other defensive position groups.